There is no precise rule of universal application and the practices of the States vary widely. For example, members of the British House of Commons and the National Assembly in France are elected for a period of five years.
The House of the People (Lok Sabha) in India was originally elected for five years. The Forty- second Constitution Amendment Act, 1976, raised its term to six years. The Constitution was again amended in 1978 to bring it back to five years. The life of the United States House of Representatives is only two years.
The tenure of the Upper Chambers in every country is usually longer. The membership of the House of Lords is hereditary, except for the Law Lords and the Peers appointed for life. The French Senate, according to the Constitution of 1958, is elected for nine years. The life of the Council of States in India and the Senate in U.S.A. is six years.
Four or five years is now considered the most-favoured term for the popular assemblies although it is only one year in two of the States in America. At one time annual elections were widely accepted as a real test of knowing popular feeling.
The supporters of annual elections even maintained that, “Where annual elections end, tyranny begins.” But this principle had to be given up, because of practical difficulties and obvious inconveniences which annual elections involved.
One year is too short a term for the representatives to understand administrative technicalities and rules of legislative procedure. It also means a constant shifting in membership and the chambers in large parts are composed of new and inexperienced members who have everything to learn.
Too short a tenure without any certainty of re-election makes representatives oblivious of their duties toward their constituents. The administration also becomes unresponsive and irresponsible as there is no continuity in policy. Fluctuating governments bring inefficiency, corruption, nepotism and deterioration in the moral tone of the governors and the governed.
Annual election also means perpetual agitation and excitement throughout the country, nourishing political factions and encouraging unnecessary restlessness.
The frequency of elections, as Judge Story observed, favour “rash innovations in domestic legislation and public policy, and produce violent and sudden changes in the administration of public affairs founded upon temporary excitements and prejudices.”
The voters, too, become disinterested if there are elections every year. The best type of candidates always avoids such an ever-recurring strain and excitement. At the same time, annual elections are very expensive.
It is true that popular opinion changes, but it does not change so quickly as to justify elections every year. A representative government provides other means for the expression of public opinion and getting grievances redressed.
Annual elections are, therefore, impracticable. If the legislatures can really be responsive and responsible to public opinion, it is imperative that their tenure should neither be so short as to defeat the true purpose of representation, nor should it be so long as to remove the representatives from the range of popular control.
John Stuart Mill observed: “On the one hand, the member ought not to have so long a tenure of his seat as to make him forget his responsibility, take his duties easily, conduct them with a view to his own personal advantages, or neglect those full and public conferences with his constituents which, whether he agrees or differs with them, are one of the benefits of the representative government.
On the other hand, he should have such a term of office to look forward to as will enable him to be judged not by a single act, but by his course of action.”